Moving the focus from disability to ability

Health and Wellbeing @ Work 7-8 March 2017

The Cordell Health team was at the large workplace health conference at the NEC in Birmingham 7-8 March 2017, with a stand and also as speakers.  

Robin chaired the national policy session on day one, with speakers that included Dame Carol Black, the Government’s Expert Advisor on health and work, and Simon Stephens, Chief Executive of the NHS. The Government’s priority is to improve the employment prospects of those with health conditions and disabilities; to reduce the disability-employment gap between the 80% employment rate for those without a disability and only 48% of those with health conditions and disabilities.  

On day two Robin spoke about how through effectively influencing health professionals, employers, and people who have health conditions and disabilities themselves, we can change the focus from disability to ability.  

For health professionals, all consultations for those with long term health conditions should include how they might best be supported in work; for those who have left work due to ill health it is much more difficult to then find another job that makes best use of these people’s skills.  Healthcare interventions should therefore include consideration of how all aspects of that person’s function might be improved including work.  As Dame Carol stated in her talk on Day One, health professionals and the NHS as a whole should see being in good work as a positive health outcome.  

Employers have a major part to play.  By recruiting on the basis of people’s abilities, employers will reap the benefit of committed employees doing the right work for them.  Useful advice for employers may be found in last year’s new international standard, ISO 27500, the human centred organisation.  Our role as health professionals is to advise on setting the conditions for optimal employment, including in our case as occupational health professionals contributing to management training programmes, and for assessment of individual employees or potential employees and recommending reasonable adjustments to “level the playing field” for those with health conditions and disabilities.  

Finally, it is people themselves that are in charge of their own health, as advised by health professionals, and as enabled by their employer or potential employers.  By adopting a positive culture, and empowering all employees “to be the best they can be”, organisations will realise the benefit of a workforce that feels good about themselves, so improving motivation and retention of skilled staff, and through demonstrating the value this brings to customers in terms of service and quality of products from a motivated workforce, to enhance business financial performance. People with long terms health conditions may well have impairments that lead to disabilities, but it is their abilities that really matter to them and all around them.

See Robin’s presentation to the Health and Wellbeing @ Work Conference for 2017, Leadership through influence - what works to improve health and work? 

Guidance for employers: do I need to introduce health surveillance for my workforce – and if so how do I go about organising this?

HSE has just recently launched its new strategy, with a particular emphasis on health: Helping Great Britain work well.  This is available online at  An element of this strategy is the need for employers to be alert to risks to health, and for health surveillance to be in place when this is required.  

Employers will know of the requirements placed on them within the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.  Those in the manufacturing and construction sectors especially will be aware of specific legislation such as the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002.  Depending on the industry, legislation relating to asbestos, lead and ionising radiation may also apply.

Common to all these regulations and their associated approved codes of practice is the need for risk assessment, and where risks are identified to the health of the workforce, to introduce health surveillance.  In some cases health surveillance is compulsory; HSE provides a useful decision making guide.  

However, not all employers may be aware of specific duties in protecting the health and safety of their employees.  In my experience this can be the case where the majority of the workforce are not significantly exposed to major physical or chemical hazards.  Health surveillance is a programme of health checks targeted on those identified as being at risk through risk assessment, and following consideration of control measures.  

Having identified a potential need for health surveillance, and having consulted the HSE guidance, we can advise managers, and also arrange for an assessment visit to your premises should this be helpful, by contacting us via the form on our website or by email to